Monday, November 9, 2009

Children understand

I had to have a child removed from the bus I was driving the other day.

It was the last of three days that I was scheduled to drive this bus, and I had been having trouble with a kindergartner each day. That final day was the worst.

He wouldn't sit down. He was bouncing from seat to seat.

And the final straw was when I told him to sit down, he looked me right in the eye and said, "NO!" So we headed back to his school and he didn't ride the bus home that night.

The next day I was in the bus barn I asked my supervisor, "So did I make too much trouble the other day?" No he assured me, but the child's father did call to express that he didn't think it was necessary to punish a kindergartner.

The implication, in my mind, being that he was too young to be punished for his misbehavior. Not that I haven't run into this idea before. I've watched as children run wild while their parents tell them to behave, but then fail to enforce the directive. When asked about it, the parents inevitably say "They're too young, they won't understand."

But children understand much more than we give them credit for. And we are doing them a great disservice by not enforcing the rules when they are young. Because they certainly will not understand and very probably come to resent it when mommy and daddy do eventually decide to make them behave.

My nephew is a good example of just how much young children can understand. Last year while we were visiting. I was sitting on the couch playing with him and his sister.

At one point, Matthew took off his shoe and threw it hitting me square in the face. It hurt. He ran around giggling and laughing obviously thinking he was having the time of his life with Uncle Nick. I grabbed him as he ran by and turned him around.

"Matthew, that was not nice," I tried to tell him. But his eyes were bouncing around the room and he was squirming in my arms. So I changed my tone of voice slightly and made him meet my eyes.

"Matthew!" I said and he immediately quieted down and looked right into my eyes. "That was not nice. That hurt Uncle Nick a lot. You do not throw things at me like that." There was understanding in his face, he said "okay" we continued playing and he has yet to throw anything at me again. He was 2 years old when that happened.

But the poor kindergartner from my bus hasn't had that kind of correction in his life, I'd bet money on it. The first five years of his life, he's been free to do whatever he pleased and if someone told him differently all he had to do was yell no and throw a fit to get his way.

Now he's in his first year of school and he's rapidly finding out that he doesn't always get his way. And he doesn't understand, and it has him upset. And rightly so.

By refusing to enforce the rules with a child -- no matter how young -- we are teaching them that rules do not have to be obeyed.

Where did we get this idea that children will reach some magical age and suddenly realize for themselves that they really do have to obey the rules?

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